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Ava Callaghan was never going to be just one night. She was going to be more, much more.
She just didn’t know it yet.
Hotshot lawyer Elijah Ward can’t be interested in his friends’ and colleagues’ little sister.
With his long-term relationship over, he isn’t looking for anyone, including off-limits Ava Callaghan with her long blonde hair and zest for life that eclipses everyone around her. She’s the daughter of his old boss and the sister of his new one – not a good career move.
She and Elijah can be for one steamy night only.
Settling down isn’t on Ava’s agenda: the only thing she’s planning on settling is the foundations to another refurbishment project. But one night is never going to be enough, not when Eli has as much mastery in the bedroom as the courtroom, and Ava has to decide whether it’s worth changing the space around her so there’s room for him.
A life-changing incident, family shenanigans and a persistent ex-girlfriend are enough to persuade anyone to close the door and walk away. But Eli isn’t the type to let what he wants walk off with his heart.
Eli Ward argues a good case for making their space a joint one.
The question is will she let him win?
- Older brothers' best friend
- Age gap
- No third act break-up
Intro to Chapter One
Intro to Chapter One
Chapter One – April
“Sorry, was that your toe?”
I shook my head and bit back the words that hung like sharpened knives on the tip of my tongue. It was a wedding, a big celebratory family occasion and as much as I have enjoyed, and maybe shed a few tears, seeing my brother say his vows to his bride, my tolerance for fuckwits who were trying to cop a feel was wearing low.
“I’m a much better dancer if you turn round.”
Yes, so you can grind your cock into my ass mistakenly thinking it’s going to spellbind me into sleeping with you. “I think I’m going to take a break. These shoes are a nightmare.” I tried to flash a smile at some son of my parents’ friend who’d been brought at their plus one. His mother had smiled desperately when he’d offered me a drink and I’d heard the warning bells in my head that she was hoping she’d found her son – Bradley, I think - a potential wife.
“I’ll come sit with you. I’d like to get your thoughts on what area I should be looking at to buy a rental.” His hand was now on my hip.
If I had been in a bar or a club, or even at a function where my brother had not just committed himself to the most perfect woman for him, I’d have removed the hand from my hip and potentially from Bradley’s wrist too. But violence, so my mother had told me, was not on tonight’s agenda.
Another hand, this one firmer, touched my shoulder, causing my head to snap round. “Ava, I think your sister was looking for you.”
My smile this time was wider than the Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland and my sigh of relief nearly blew my saviour away. I knew for a fact that neither Payton nor Claire would be looking for me. Claire, my eldest sister, was heavily pregnant and had gone for a ‘lie down’ with her fiancé in their hotel room; Payton was currently having a drinking competition with her twin brother. “Thanks, Eli,” I said, my hand automatically moving to his arm. “Sorry, Bradley, I need to check on Claire.”
“No problem. Catch you later? I’d like to buy you a drink – maybe see if you’re free one evening next week.” Bradley’s eyes were too far south for anyone’s liking, apart from his. At least I’d got his name right.
I looked at Eli, hoping he could somehow read my mind and help me out of a situation that could end up being persistently irritating for the rest of the evening. The firm hand that had been on my shoulder transferred to my waist and I was pulled into his side. A possessive move. I let myself lean in a little and gave him a thankful look with a little extra eyelash fluttering for good measure.
Elijah Ward was a partner in my family’s law firm, Callaghan Green. He was the senior partner in my sister, Payton’s, commercial something department and was good friends with my three brothers who also worked there, one being today’s groom, Jackson. I was one of two Callaghan siblings who weren’t lawyers: instead I flipped houses and made them pretty, hence I had no idea about the department Eli worked in.
“I think we’re busy most nights this week. We have that meal with my sister on Wednesday.” He gave me an amused glance.
He was tall, almost a foot more than I was, which wasn’t difficult given that the women in my family were tiny.
“But thank you for the offer.”
Bradley’s jaw dropped. The urge to laugh was strong, but instead I focused on Eli, his dark pools of chocolate eyes and the six o’clock shadow that was grazing it. “I’d forgotten about that. I’d better find out what Claire wants. Do you know where she is?”
We walked away from the dance floor, his hand on the small of my back, guiding me towards the courtyard outside that had been decorated with fairy lights and flowers.
“Thank you for saving me,” I said, the quietness outside almost unsettling with the party that was still going on.
“You mean you’re not coming to dinner with my sister on Wednesday?” Eli raised his hands in mock horror. “Damn.”
I laughed, sitting down on the bench, my feet genuinely aching. I would’ve abandoned the shoes by now, but my bridesmaid’s dress was long and I needed the extra height they gave my short-assed self.
Eli sat down next to me. “I would’ve ‘saved’ you sooner, but I wasn’t sure if it was needed.”
I wondered how long he’d been watching me for and why. I’d met him several times after work with my brothers and sisters when we’d gone for drinks. He was around my eldest brother’s age, nine or ten years older than me, and as far as I knew he was in a relationship, albeit a long distance one. His girlfriend had been out with us once or twice. She’d been pleasant, again - older than me, maybe older than him and very sensible. Payton and I had been on our fourth round of shots when she’d ordered water, giving us a knowing look that we’d thoroughly ignored.
“It was needed. He was about to get handsy,” I said, my own hands moving around, gesturing, which was how I usually knocked things over. “He’s the son of a friend of my parents and I think his mum was hoping he’d get lucky and find a rich wife. Or maybe even just a wife. Although I suspect he’d have been happy with a lay.” I winced. “I’d have dispatched him but I didn’t want to cause a scene.”
Eli chuckled, his face breaking out into a broad smile. “I almost feel sorry for him. He was looking at you as if you were all his Christmases rolled into one with a couple of Hanukahs too. Want to wait out here for a bit to give him time to move on? I could do with some fresh air.”
“You mean you want to get away from the madness inside?” I said, understanding how he felt. It had ended up being a big wedding reception after a smaller, more intimate service. Jackson and my brothers had looked horrendously handsome and Vanessa, my new sister, had been beautiful and excruciatingly happy. The day had been perfect - except for Bradley and his adventurous hands. But it had also been busy, the room now packed with colleagues, friends, old school chums and family connections such as Bradley and his mother, so I understood Eli’s desire to sit outside in the spring evening sun.
His laughter was deep and vibrated through me, waking up sense that had been dulled by alcohol.
“I could do with a break. How about I get us some drinks so you don’t have to fend off any more Bradleys?”
“Sounds perfect,” I stretched out my legs and figured I could get rid of the heels from hell. The bride and groom were too wrapped up in each other to notice that I’d disappeared, and given that alcohol was as plentiful as blood in most Callaghan veins right now, there was a good chance my siblings wouldn’t notice either.
The flash of a smile brightened his usual serious expression and I found myself genuinely smiling back. It wasn’t that I didn’t like weddings, or social gatherings. I did. I enjoyed the chat and the music and the fun that was there to be had and the day had been perfect. But it had also been exhausting. We’d been up early to have our hair done and then make up, manicures, pedicures and every other cure Vanessa had thought of. It hadn’t been painful or tedious and I hadn’t needed to keep my filters on as I was with my sisters and two other women I was close to.
Watching my brother see his bride and say his vows had been hard. I rarely bothered to control myself: my tears fell as easily as I usually issued my smiles, but today I’d finally, at the age of twenty-seven felt grown up. Jackson managed the law firm; he carried his responsibility well but had, like the rest of us, avoided serious relationships. For all of us, our loyalty was to our jobs and we’d learned that from our father. But Vanessa had changed something in him, something for the better, something that made him contently happy.
A bottle of champagne and a jug of what looked like margarita appeared before me like an offering to a god. Not that I was a god, at the moment I was a tired and slightly dishevelled bridesmaid. It was however the first alcohol I’d had apart from a glass of champagne with the speeches and I was feeling the need to catch up. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” I said, looking up at Eli.
“It’s not all for you, you know,” he said, sitting down next to me. “Shift up and share the seat. And the champagne.”
I moved, aware of his size and his scent, which reminded me of the woods and forests, clean and musky. His leg brushed against mine and I remembered watching him playing rugby with my brothers: he was strong with cut, lean, defined muscle. “I’m happy to share. I have six siblings. If I couldn’t share I was doomed to start with.”
There was that chuckle again. “Eldest of four. I had no chance but to share, otherwise it got taken from me. You’re the youngest – everyone had to share with you.” He uncorked the champagne quietly and poured. “I guarantee you that if you drink your champagne before me, someone will come over and say, ‘let Ava have the rest of yours because she’s younger!’ Seriously, it happened all the fucking time.” He glanced up at me with a tiny smile that belied the humour beyond his annoyance.
“Eldest of four,” I said, surprised I didn’t know this already, but then why would I? “Brothers? Sisters?”
“Three sisters,” he said. “I was serious about Wednesday. I’m meeting the eldest of them, Izzy, for dinner.” He looked cranky.
“Does she live in London?”
Eli nodded and was about to speak but a loud whoop came from inside the function room that sounded suspiciously like one of my brothers.
“She lives in Highbury.” He rolled his eyes at the noise. In all likelihood, it was Seph, providing extra entertainment.
I prodded his thigh with my finger. “I’m assuming from your decided lack of enthusiasm that this isn’t going to be a highlight of your week?”
He reached to the tray and passed me a glass of champagne. “You assume right.”
We knocked the glasses together and sipped liquid, the burn and bubbles familiar as the drink slipped down my throat. It had been a steady stream of alcohol and the hit of the shot gave me a pleasant buzz. I was staying over at the venue, so I wasn’t overly concerned about having a couple of drinks. “So tell, why’s seeing Izzy not on your list of Top Ten Things to do in London this week?”
He sipped the champagne. “Because she’s going to ask me thirty dozen questions, none of which I’ll have the right answer to.”
“What’s the theme of the questions?”
He shook his head, finishing his glass and then topping up both of our glasses. “Let’s not go there. I saw Bradley at the bar. He came over and apologised.”
I frowned. “What for?”
“For assuming you were single. He then congratulated me on finding such a ‘good catch’ who was also ‘hot as fuck’.” He was deadpan as he said it.
I let my forehead hit the table, not quite enough to hurt, but dramatically enough to make Eli laugh. “Seriously? Why? Why do men still think it’s okay to talk about women like they’re some sort of trophy?” I muffled my rather loud groan with my hands.
Footsteps thudding made me look up to see two of my brothers head into the courtyard, two blondes with them. I quietened and watched as they displayed the mating rituals of peacocks; Seph trying to flex his bicep subtly and failing; Callum, running fingers through his hair like a C-list movie star. I shook my head and downed another shot. “I can’t watch this,” I muttered to Eli. “It’s like a bad soap opera.”
His hand touched the small of my back, a soft pressure applying warmth through the thin material of my dress. “You should watch. It’s comedy gold.”
Pulling my head up and setting sight on the scene in front of us took a lot of effort. I’d been witness to many attempt by my brothers to entice some poor pretty girl into their beds for the night and it never became less cringe-worthy to watch. “Seph’s using his reel-them-in-with-his-physique-technique,” I said in an undertone. “The poor things usually fall for it too.”
“Maybe I should take some tips from him,” Eli said.
I frowned. “What would your girlfriend say about that?” I hated cheating. If you were interested in someone else, then your current relationship wasn’t working and you needed to get out of it.
“I don’t have a girlfriend anymore.”
I wasn’t sure what else to say. None of my brothers had mentioned it, but why would they? Callum chose that moment to thread his arms around his girl’s waist and pull her into him with his hands cupping her ass; Seph had slid over to a darker corner of the courtyard.
“I really can’t watch.”
There was that short laugh again. “Do you want to move back inside so you can’t see?”
The night was one of those that should’ve belonged at the end of a heady summer’s day with a bonfire on a field and vats of moonshine, cut off shorts and no fucking worries in the world. And the courtyard was gorgeous, full of spring flowers and fairy lights. Plus, two too many members of my family. I stood up suddenly, almost rocking the table. “No. Why don’t we go to my room?” I wasn’t entirely sure where the words had come from, all I knew was that I needed a break from the constant parade of dramas that were unfolding throughout the venue. Then I thought about my words and laughed. “I didn’t mean it like that. I’d just like some quiet for an hour or so.”
Eli stood up and started to put our glasses on the tray with the remainder of the bottle of champagne. “Same here. Lead the way.”
My brothers were oblivious to me being anywhere nearby. Had it been Max and Jackson, the eldest, they’d have had some weird sixth sense about me being there with Eli and on our own which would’ve made them look concerned and perturbed, probably more about Eli’s wellbeing than mine. We slipped away, through the hallways of the building to the small hotel where family and a couple of close friends were staying. “Are you staying here?” I said to Eli, slipping my hand into my bra for the key card to my room.
His brows raised at what I was doing. “That’s one place to keep it safe,” he said. “No, I’m heading home. It isn’t that far.”
I sensed there was more of story there, probably one about his ex-girlfriend and them meant to be making a weekend of the wedding, especially as she hadn’t lived in London. My door clicked open, exposing a room that was thankfully tidy given that the getting ready had been done in the bridal suite. Had it been used for me getting ready it would’ve been a case of the room being coated in outfits and makeup and probably underwear, although pretty underwear in all fairness. There was a small table and two chairs near to the large windows that overlooked a small park. Eli headed over there without asking or waiting for me. Decisive.
I closed the door behind us and studied the man in front of me. Eli was broad and built, a long drink of something hard but smooth, served without ice because there was no way any woman would want to cool that heat. His ex must’ve had her reasons for ending it and I’d have been lying if I said I didn’t want to know what they were.
“It’s a nice room.” He added more bubbles to our glasses and passed me mine. “I know Max is staying here. Are the rest of your family?”
His tie was slightly askew and as I sat down opposite him at the table I resisted the temptation to straighten it, to see my fingers against the plaid pattern and feel its silk. “We’re all here. My mother’s beside herself. And Claire’s managed not to give birth yet, so it looks like we’re all staying.” My eldest sister was pregnant with her first child. Very pregnant. And very irritable. “Are you close with your family?”
He looked preoccupied, as if a ton of something prickly was sat on his shoulders. “Not as close as you Callaghans,” he said. “But we’re close. I’m only wanting to avoid Izzy because she’ll feel sorry for me about breaking up with Andrea. And ask lots of questions.”
“Why did you break up with Andrea?” I said, the words tumbling out before I had time to clamp my jaw shut. I chugged back some champagne.
His smile was genuine but knowing. “I heard from your brothers that you said exactly what you thought.”
“Shit, they warned you about me?”
He laughed, the sound warm and full. “They’ve mentioned you a couple of times.”
“I didn’t mean to pry,” I said. “Well, I did, but not in a gossipy way.”
He folded his arms and grinned, saying nothing. His eyes were hazel, flecks of gold brightening them and his features were chiselled. He looked nothing but masculine and for a nano-second I felt like the geeky girl in the corner. A nano-second. No longer than that, because I wasn’t the type to do shy or retiring. Elijah Ward was hotter than a kitchen fire.
“So tell Aunty Ava exactly why you’re now single and about to Tinder.” I folded my arms too.
“I’m not going on Tinder,” Eli said. “Ever.” He passed another shot glass over to me. “Drink.”
I obliged, downing the liquid in one and feeling the alcohol hit me, feeling how it soothed the busyness that I’d been swimming in all day. “There’s nothing wrong with Tinder,” I said. “Depending on what you want.”
“Ava, I’m thirty-five. I’ve swiped right in real time enough in bars and clubs.”
I opened the door that led onto the small veranda outside, the sounds of the party downstairs flying up to us. The cooler air was pleasant and fresher, the evening starting to dumb-down the unusual April heat. “So why did you split up?”
“Persistent, aren’t you?” His eyes meeting mine - those chocolate eyes. “She ended it. The long distance wasn’t working for her and she’d ended up meeting someone else who had just started working for the same company.”
I nodded, holding his gaze and not wanting to let it go. “Long distance is hard.”
He nodded. “The plan was for her to relocate and move here, but it never happened. She got a promotion and she had friends and a base there. We grew apart.”
“Relationships are difficult,” I said. “And I know you’re going to roll your eyes and question whether I’ve ever been in one and the answer is yes, but none for any duration. A year was the longest when I was at college, but that ended before I came back to England.”
“I wouldn’t patronise you.”
He didn’t smile when he said it and for a second I didn’t see my brothers’ colleague and friend, I saw someone else. I just wasn’t sure who.
“Yes, relationships are difficult.”
I put my non-drinking hand over his that was resting face down on the table. My hand was tiny compared, pale against his darker skin. I didn’t want to move it, and he seemed quite happy to keep it there. “You know what they say: the best way to get over a woman is to get under another one.” There was a hitch to my voice and I bit my lips together, realising what I was suggesting. My heart had started to tap out a dance and my head started to risk assess my current situation.
Sex was fun and I enjoyed it. Eli was attractive and not a douche, but he was also hugely connected to my family. But he wasn’t twenty-five and he wasn’t a bit of kid. If he was interested.
He moved his hand away.
“Maybe you’re right. I saw it coming and now I’m pissed that even though we were seeing each other for two years I’m not that bothered we’re done.”
“You’re angry you wasted time when you could’ve been meeting someone else. Or several someone elses?” I said, eyeing the tequila and deciding it was a bad idea.
Eli’s eyes danced and he picked up a shot glass. “I’m not Callum. Sticking my dick in anything half way to being pretty has never been my thing.”
“You’ve summed Callum up well.” My brother was the definition of a manwhore, especially since he’d come back from saving animals in India or somewhere. “Honestly, you just have to move on. The more time you spend thinking about what you should’ve done; the more time you’re wasting.”
The rest of the champagne was drained into our glasses and I debated phoning reception to have another bottle sent up, them remembered the bottle I’d been storing for late night drinks. We Callaghans were nothing if not prepared if there was a possibility that the bar would close. Although, I was trying to maintain a degree of being drink-aware and keep an eye on my liver.
“Whisky?” I felt suddenly nervous. “Or we have another bottle of decent fizz.” I jumped up again, grateful to move.
“Are you trying to get me drunk?” His eyes following me as I moved across the room. I was off kilter; Eli appeared to have some strange device that threw me off my usual confident trajectory, like an invisible space force field. “If so, go ahead.”
I turned to look at him and took a step back with a smile. “How do you take your hangovers?”
“With a full breakfast, a shot of whisky and a long run. How do you take yours?”
“I’m immune,” I said. “I don’t get them.” I’d learned to drink water, lots of it and to ease off a couple of hours before I went to bed. I was also my mother’s daughter and could handle a few drinks.”
“Bring the champagne,” he said. “Let’s start there.”